Runoff Near, Debate Shifts to a New Set of Issues

During the five-way race in the Republican primary to represent a 12-county Hill Country district in the Texas House, two candidates, Rob Henneke and Andrew Murr, largely focused on the state’s water policy and ensuring local control of decisions on education and infrastructure.

The two have advanced to the May 27 runoff to succeed State Representative Harvey Hilderbran, Republican of Kerrville, who ran for state comptroller.

But the conversation in the campaign to represent House District 53 has shifted in a new phase. Discussions about water, taxes and immigration have been somewhat overshadowed by provocative topics like Shariah law, the Islamic code of law derived from the Quran.

“I’m going to be the candidate that’s going to fight to advance the constitutional conservative principles that I believe in and that this district believes in,” Mr. Henneke, a former Kerr County attorney, said.

Mr. Murr, a former Kimble County judge and county attorney, said his brand of conservatism would appeal to voters. “The message of having a voice coming from local government worried about issues like water and property rights resonates with a lot of people,” he said.

During a recent appearance on a local radio program about religion, the two candidates squared off, sharing their views on water, immigration, anti-abortion efforts and Shariah law.

“I’m very concerned about the infiltration of our society by Muslims right now in Texas,” Mr. Henneke told listeners. “I don’t think people are aware about how pervasive that has become in our society.”

He said he would support in the next legislative session the passage of the American Laws for American Courts Act, which would forbid the use of foreign law in the state’s courts.

Britain grapples with role for Islamic justice

A Muslim woman requested an Islamic divorce on the grounds that her husband physically and emotionally abused her, and told her that he wanted her dead. Her husband was opposed to the divorce, and when an Islamic scholar adjudicating the case seemed opposed to the divorce, the wife brought in her father as a “secret weapon.” The judge reversed his position and promptly recommended divorce.

The case is paradigmatic of the limits and ways that religious tolerance, Shariah law, and the pre-eminence of British law are applied to everyday cases across the country. Critics and proponents of allowing a space for Shariah courts and decisions in Britain cite this case as an example of the larger debate of when, how, and why Shariah can be applied in Britain.

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Sharia law is ‘not fit for the UK’, says a Labour Muslim MP

A Labour Muslim minister has warned that Islamic law is too unsophisticated for Britain. Sadiq Khan said women could be ‘ abused’ by sharia courts, which may give unequal bargaining power to the sexes. He said: ‘The burden is on those who want to open up these courts to persuade us why they should.’ Mr Khan, who was made a community cohesion minister in this month’s Government reshuffle, rejected the argument that the courts could operate in the same way as the Jewish Beth Din courts. He said Muslim life in Britain was not advanced enough to run a similar religious legal system.

The MP for Tooting in South London added: ‘I would be very concerned about sharia courts applying in the UK. ‘I don’t think there is that level of sophistication that there is in Jewish law.’ He also said that sharia courts would discourage Muslims from developing links with other cultural and ethnic groups. In February Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave his support for the courts in Britain, saying that the legal recognition of them ‘seems unavoidable’. Mr Khan, who is a human rights lawyer and one of only a handful of Muslim MPs, said: ‘The requirement to learn English is not colonial. English is a passport to participation in mainstream society – jobs, education and even being able to use health services. ‘Having poor English creates multiple barriers to work,’ he writes in the pamphlet for the left-of-centre Fabian Society.

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UK Islamic banks to double in five years

With the Sharia-compliant market growing by up to 15 per cent a year and estimated to be worth a trillion dollars (Dh3.67tn) by 2010, the number of Islamic investment banks in the UK is predicted to double within five years, said Samer Merhi, the executive director of the Gatehouse Bank, an Islamic finance house based in the UK. “It has the potential to grow because of the high demand and the interest to make the UK the international heart of Islamic finance business,” Mr Merhi said at an Islamic finance forum in Kuala Lumpur last week. Gatehouse, a subsidiary of the Securities House of Kuwait, which started operating in London in April, is one of five Islamic investment banks based in the UK. There is also one fully fledged retail bank, the Islamic Bank of Britain, which became the first independent Islamic bank in Britain to register with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in 2004.

It was an institution established with considerable input from the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank to give the two million-plus Muslims in the UK a bank of their own, although now more than 20 other conventional UK banks are offering customers Sharia-compliant products. With active encouragement from the government – and, particularly, then-chancellor Gordon Brown – the UK became the first EU member state to authorise Islamic banks. Though the French are now doing their best to catch up, it has maintained its lead by adopting a level regulatory playing field for both traditional and Sharia-compliant banks. David Sapsted reports.

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First UK Sharia court up and running in Warwickshire

A Muslim college in Warwickshire is running the UK’s first official sharia law court. The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal has used sharia law to settle more than 100 civil disputes between Muslims across the UK since it opened last December. The tribunal, which runs along side the British legal system, was set up by scholars and lawyers at Hijaz College Islamic University in Watling Street, Nuneaton.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, recently said there was no reason why sharia law, derived from several sources including the Koran, could not be used for contractual agreements and marital disputes. Cases already heard in Nuneaton include an inheritance dispute between three sisters and their two brothers, a divorce and a neighbour dispute. In the inheritance case, the men were given double their sisters’ inheritance. The divorce hearing ruled that a Somalian woman should be granted an Islamic khula (annulment) despite her husband’s strong objections. And in the neighbourhood dispute, the tribunal ruled that the losing party – a group of young Muslim graduates – should teach the winning party, who had young children. Les Reid reports.

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Bercy Seeks to Enable the Development of Islamic Financing in France

Christine Lagarde, Minister of the Economy and Finance, wants to facilitate the development of Islamic finances in France, stating she wants follow the model already in place in London. Known as “sukuks”, this kind of loan meets the rules of shari’ah law which prohibits claiming interest and investing in certain sectors like those related to war, alcohol and gaming.

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